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Will Teacher Prep Academies Replace Schools of Education?

Senator Bennett from the state of Colorado has re-introduced the Growing Excellent Achievement Training Academies for Teachers and Principals (GREAT) Act, a bill to reshape teacher preparation, drastically lowering the standards for those doing this crucial work. The bill boasts support from the New Schools Venture Fund, Democrats for Education Reform, Stand For Children, Teach For America, TNTP, NCTQ and many more "reformers."

This bill reflects groundwork that has been laid by Gates Foundation-funded non-profit advocacy and policy groups such as the National Council on Teacher Quality, which has been highly critical of our nation's schools of education.

Here is how Senator Bennett describes what the bill will accomplish:

Accountability for producing effective teachers and principals with their graduation tied to improving student academic achievement. Programs that fail to produce great teachers or principals will be not be reauthorized. In return for accepting this accountability, academies will be free from burdensome, input-based regulations that are unrelated to student achievement.

All this talk of accountability and results suggests we are "raising the bar." However, a closer look at this bill tells us it would be better described as the "No Fuss teacher preparation bill." The bill removes teacher preparation from any sort of university setting, and allows anyone to establish teacher and principal academies with very minimal requirements.

There is a requirement that

teacher candidates, or teachers teaching on alternative certificates, licenses, or credentials, who are enrolled in the teacher preparation academy receive a significant part of their training through clinical preparation that partners teacher candidates with mentor teachers with a demonstrated track record of success in improving academic achievement in the classroom

But beyond this, the bill spends a lot of time describing what is NOT required. The bill says that the states:

(B) shall not have unnecessary restrictions on the methods or inputs the teacher preparation academy will use to train teacher candidates or teachers teaching on alternative certificates, licenses, or credentials, including restrictions or requirements--

(i) obligating the faculty of the teacher preparation academy to hold advanced degrees;

(ii) obligating such faculty to conduct academic research;

(iii) related to the physical infrastructure of the teacher preparation academy;

(iv) related to the number of course credits required as part of the program of study;

(v) related to the undergraduate coursework completed by teachers teaching on alternative certificates, licenses, or credentials, as long as such teachers have successfully passed all relevant State-approved content area examinations;

So anyone with a bachelor's degree - actually it does not even specify that - can open a teacher preparation "academy." They need no building, no trained faculty. The credential candidates need have no preparation whatsoever - all that matters is that they pass the state content exams.

The "accountability" comes at the back end, when it comes time for renewal. Then we must use data - the programs must demonstrate that their graduates yield growth in student achievement via the famous "multiple measures." The state:

(B) does not renew a teacher or principal preparation academy's charter if the academy fails to produce the minimum number or percentage of effective teachers or principals, respectively, identified in the academy's charter.

The last bit of accountability comes at the end, where the bill states that

(7) an assurance that the State will recognize a certificate of completion (from a teacher or principal preparation academy that is not, or is unaffiliated with, an institution of higher education), as at least the equivalent of a master's degree in education for the purposes of teacher or principal hiring, retention, compensation, and promotion in the State.

Got that? Any credential from one of these outfits must be treated as if it were a master's degree.

This bill speaks of great teachers, but removes from the process of becoming a teacher any requirement that candidates actually study teaching in a serious way. All that is demanded is on the job training, and some kind of report after several years showing acceptable levels of student performance.

The House sponsors of the bill are Congressmen Petris of Wisconsin, and Polis of Colorado. Their page about the bill says,

According to a leading study, 61 percent of education school alumni reported that schools of education at four-year colleges did not adequately prepare their graduates for the classroom. Principals reported that only 30 percent of schools prepare teachers very well or moderately well to meet the needs of students with disabilities and only 16 percent for students with limited English proficiency. Most discouraging is that nearly half of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years.

California responded to some of these concerns related to English learners recently with the very reasonable step of requiring that teacher candidates receive training in working with English Learners. This bill has nothing along those lines, and in fact explicitly says that states cannot place such "unnecessary restrictions" on candidates, and may only require content exams.

In response to concerns about the quality of teacher preparation programs, we are getting a market-driven solution, that removes requirements of quality and academic substance, and replaces them with market mechanisms that rely on test scores to determine quality.

Schools of Education will become an endangered species if this bill becomes law. Market-based "reformers" have long hungered for "disruption" of the "monopoly" that schools of education have had on teacher preparation. This bill would create big incentives for states to allow virtually anyone to set themselves up as a teacher preparation academy.

Some schools of education, it should be noted, are going along with this. The University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education has signed on as a supporter. In another sign of this trend, I received a notice this week of a Teach For America Open Forum that will be held tomorrow at the University of Minnesota, which indicates the school of education there is actively considering developing summer programs and professional development for TFA corps members.

NEA president Dennis Van Roekel may also have helped pave the way when he coauthored an op-ed with Wendy Kopp two years ago on teacher preparation. That column suggested we "Use data to improve teacher preparation." Here is the law tailor made for this purpose. Will the NEA be supporting it?

Our schools of education do not do a perfect job of preparing teachers. There are many ways in which they could improve, especially through closer connections to our schools, and more active use of experienced teachers. But they represent a source of scholarship for the teaching profession, a place where we can learn about child development and pedagogy. They are places where our culture's obsession with data can be actively questioned - and perhaps that is why the reformers have developed a means to take them out of the equation.

What do you think? Will we get GREAT teachers by allowing for these sorts of academies to proliferate? How should we improve teacher preparation?

Continue the dialogue with Anthony on Twitter.

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